Over the weekend I was traveling to North Cyprus (tell the U.S. to update its maps) to renew my visa and then to visit some friends in Adana, a warm and beautiful city on Turkey's southern coast. As if the murders hadn't hit home already, they sure did on Sunday at church. The German victim was a member of that congregation during the several years he lived in Adana. People cried and wept as they told stories remembering his gentle heart and soft-spoken manner, how he loved to play the violin, and how his chief goal in life was for others to know Jesus Christ more deeply. Through periods of tears, the pastor preached from John 15:18--16:4, and the need for us not to shrink back in fear, but to continue bearing witness to the truth. He spoke about how ludicrous it was for people to see these Christian men and their Bibles as threats: they lived to make known the message of a book that teaches God's people to love their neighbors as themselves, forgive their enemies, pay their taxes, honor those in authority, care for the needy, heal the sick, and conserve the rest of creation. I was glad to hear that the victims' wives publicly said they do not seek revenge, but rather they forgive the killers. Will the nation hear that message?
A few things especially have hit me over this: I knew about the shooting in Trabzon last year, and I reacted in bitter disgust at the slaying of Hrant Dink. But now it was personal; somehow these shootings felt closer to home. Friends of mine knew the victims well. When I was journaling and praying, something unique happened: I was praying with first-person plural pronouns, "we" and "us" prayers. No longer did I see the church as Turkish versus expatriate. We are all of one family in Christ, members of one another in this trial. "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26). I saw myself and the Turkish church bound up together in one faith, one witness, one travail. Indeed, we are.
Additionally, we hear of deaths in Iraq and Palestine, Sudan and Indonesia, as faceless numbers: "Today seventy-five died in sectarian violence in Baghdad"; "Thirty-two die at Virginia Tech," etc. But these were real men with names, homes, wives and children and fiancees; with hobbies and careers and fiery passion for the Lord Jesus. I was glad to see CNN post a brief biography of each of the VTU victims today.
Please continue to pray for our witness, for the family and friends of the victims, for justice, and for God's forgiving mercy to be shed even upon the killers.